Don't count out the Phillies

Originally Published: August 23, 2006
ESPN.com

BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA

We break down the NL and AL wild-card races in full force heading into the final weeks of the season. The contenders are plentiful, with a couple of surprise teams in the mix, particularly the Phillies, who have been among the best teams in baseball this month. Go figure. Trading Bobby Abreu has proved to be exactly the spark the Phillies needed.

Injuries also could play a major role. The Phillies are a bit banged up, and boy, would the Red Sox like to have Jason Varitek back.

The season is a long one, and those who can remain standing tend to persevere. Remember: The teams that have to win down the stretch usually do just about every night.

These races could come down to one player or, as we've seen in the past, to one play. That's what makes them so exciting as we hit the stretch run.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Who's hot: Jon Garland (6-1, 3.26 ERA since All-Star break)
Who's not: Every other starting pitcher (11-20 after All-Star break)
Outlook: Six of last 13 games are with Tigers and Twins, but other seven are with Indians and Mariners.
MINNESOTA TWINS
Who's hot: Johan Santana (36-3 after All-Star break since 2003)
Who's not: Jason Kubel (8 hits in last 58 at-bats)
Outlook: Status of Francisco Liriano (12-3, 2.19 ERA) could determine postseason fate.
BOSTON RED SOX
Who's hot: Manny Ramirez (.394 BA in August)
Who's not: Bullpen (last 25 IP, 25 ER allowed)
Outlook: They are 7-15 since losing Jason Varitek and likely won't contend without him.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Who's hot: Unexpected contributor Maicer Izturis (9 RBI in last 9 games)
Who's not: John Lackey is 0-3, 7.36 ERA in last four starts
Outlook: Season won't be determined until last 10 games, seven of which are vs. Oakland.
TEXAS RANGERS
Who's hot: Mark Teixeira (12 HR in 40 games since All-Star break)
Who's not: Carlos Lee (5-22 with runners in scoring position since joining Rangers)
Outlook: History (64-77 in September/October since 2001) says pitchers will wilt by season's end.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Who's hot: Vernon Wells could surpass 2003 numbers (.317, 33 HR, 117 RBI) with one more good month.
Who's not: Ted Lilly (8.68 ERA in August) couldn't hold eight-run lead in last start.
Outlook: Shea Hillenbrand took spark out of Blue Jays when he left. They're just 18-21 since the All-Star break.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

CINCINNATI REDS
Who's hot: Edwin Encarnacion drawing David Wright comparisons (22 RBI in last 18 games)
Who's not: Bronson Arroyo (1-4 in 11 starts in July/August)
Outlook: Their record against divisional opponents (38-30) is best among NL Central squads and bodes well, but no games left with Cardinals.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Who's hot: Bullpen, particularly Cla Meredith (1.01 ERA)
Who's not: Mike Piazza (6-46 in August) has been in a major funk since his return to Shea Stadium.
Outlook: If Jake Peavy is right (1.89 ERA in last five starts), Padres could win West or wild card.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Who's hot: Everyone. Phillies have been a different team since the Bobby Abreu trade, winning 15 of 22.
Who's not: The walking wounded (Aaron Rowand and Tom Gordon on DL).
Outlook: Could come down to beating Astros, whom they face six times in September (0-6 vs HOU in 2004, 2005).
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Who's hot: Ray Durham has tied his career best with 20 HR and surpassed his best RBI tally with 77.
Who's not: Pedro Feliz is 4-32 in his last 11 games.
Outlook: Can Barry Bonds channel the magic of past Septembers (.349 BA, 40 BB in 2004)?
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Who's hot: Stephen Drew, though he's slowed down a bit, has hit safely in 17 of his last 19 games.
Who's not: Brandon Webb has a 5.59 ERA in his last five starts.
Outlook: Can youngsters Drew and Carlos Quentin stand up in the heat of a pennant race?
HOUSTON ASTROS
Who's hot: Willy Taveras (club-record 26-game hit streak)
Who's not: Lance Berkman (6-38 in his last 11 games) historically is best down the stretch.
Outlook: Could come down to whether Brad Lidge (5.53 ERA) can bounce back and regain closer role.

ELIAS SAYS
Scott Olsen • Scott Olsen improved his record to 10-7 in the Marlins' 9-7 victory over the Nationals, joining rookie teammates Josh Johnson (11-6) and Ricky Nolasco (11-8), who previously reached double figures in wins. Florida is the first team in 54 years with three rookies with 10 or more victories. The last was the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers: Joe Black (15-4), Billy Loes (13-8), and Ben Wade (11-9).

• Matt Garza, the 25th pick in the 2005 amateur draft, earned his first major-league win in the Twins' 4-1 victory over the Orioles. The only other pitchers from the 2005 draft to have won a game in the majors to date are Mike Pelfrey of the Mets (2-1) and Craig Hansen of the Red Sox (1-1).

More from Elias Says

RUMOR CENTRAL
Thinking Blue
Eric Gagne Impressed with the Dodgers' roster, Eric Gagne will consider re-signing with the team, even if it means taking less money than he could fetch on the open market, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"I want to win and this team will be a winner," Gagne told the newspaper. Because of his injuries, the closer understands "any contract is going to be incentive-laden."

More from Rumor Central Insider

POWER STRUGGLE
The White Sox held off the Tigers.
NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES
GOOD
Giants rookie Eliezer Alfonzo delivered the go-ahead hit for the second straight game as San Francisco beat Arizona 7-6 to complete a three-game sweep. Alfonzo tripled to right-center in the seventh inning after Pedro Feliz doubled to center against Brandon Lyon (1-3) to tie it at six. Alfonzo had a go-ahead double in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 7-6 win and is hitting .348 (16-for-46) with runners in scoring position.
BAD
Gustavo Chacin struggled in the Blue Jays' 6-0 loss to the A's -- his first start after missing more than two months with a sore elbow. Chacin (6-3), who was activated from the DL before the game, allowed five runs on six hits in just 1 1/3 innings. The left-hander went 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in four rehab starts in the minors.
UGLY
Mark Mulder (6-6) got shelled by the Mets in the Cardinals' 10-8 loss. Mulder, making his first start since missing two months with a strained left shoulder, allowed nine runs on nine hits and walked four in three-plus innings as his ERA ballooned to 6.77.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
The Rangers lost their third straight to the Devil Rays and fell 7½ games behind the AL West-leading A's.
MOVERS AND HITMAKERS
Willy Taveras extended his hitting streak to an Astros-record 26 games with a bunt single against Cincinnati. Only two other players in the majors have longer streaks than Taveras this season. Philadelphia's Chase Utley hit in 36 in a row (June 23 to Aug. 3), and Boston's Manny Ramirez put together a 27-game streak (July 15 to Aug. 12).
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"Right now, it's been fun. We've been playing some good ball. We know what's at stake."
-- Phillies 1B Ryan Howard after the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Cubs
NEWS AND NOTES
• The Yankees placed RHP Mike Mussina on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin. The 37-year-old Mussina (13-5), who has already matched his victory total from last season despite being winless in four starts since July 30, will be eligible to come off the DL on Sept. 5. The Yankees recalled RHP Brian Bruney from Triple-A Columbus to fill the roster spot and also released Sidney Ponson.

• The Cardinals put David Eckstein on the DL and signed free-agent Jose Vizcaino for infield help while their regular shortstop is sidelined for several weeks. Eckstein, the Cardinals' regular leadoff hitter, strained a muscle in his side Friday in Chicago when he slid into catcher Michael Barrett.

• Tampa Bay senior adviser Don Zimmer wants to return next year for his 59th season in baseball, and the Devil Rays say they're interested. "The answer is yes," said Tampa Bay principal owner Stuart Sternberg. "If I'm here, he's got a home." Zimmer is completing his third season with Tampa Bay. He and his wife have lived about 7 miles away from Tropicana Field in Treasure Island, Fla., for almost 50 years.

GEM DEALER
Roy Oswalt cools red-hot Reds.
FORWARD THINKING: THURSDAY
Jon GarlandWhite Sox at Tigers, 1:05 ET: Jon Garland (14-4, 4.73) has been dealing since the All-Star break. He is 6-1 with a 3.26 ERA and has given up only four home runs after surrendering 19 in the first half. Nate Robertson (11-9, 3.71) ranks eighth in the AL in ERA and ninth in BAA (.249), but he has just one win in his last four starts (1-3), despite allowing three runs or less in each outing.

Phillies at Cubs, 2:20 ET: After some hiccups, Cole Hamels (6-6, 4.40) doesn't look like a rookie anymore. He is 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA and 34 strikeouts in his last five starts. Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.34) could be a darkhorse in the Cy Young race. He leads the NL in K's (173) and BAA (.206), and also ranks third in wins, fifth in innings and seventh in ERA.

Jered WeaverRed Sox at Angels, 10:05 ET: Since beating the A's on July 24, Josh Beckett (13-8, 5.35) is 0-3 with a 7.91 ERA and 17 walks in his last five starts. Jered Weaver (9-0, 1.95) looks to become the first AL rookie to win his first 10 decisions as a starter. Only four other pitchers -- Livan Hernandez (9-0) with the Marlins in 1997, Kirk Reuter (10-0) with the Expos in 1993-94, Whitey Ford (9-0) with the Yankees in 1950 and Hooks Wiltse (12-0) with the N.Y. Giants in 1904 -- began their careers with nine straight wins.

Thursday's probable starters